Ryan Coogler wrote a lengthy statement about Boseman who played T’Challa / Black Panther in Marvel’s mega blockbuster movie “Black Panther”.
When I met after watching the film, I asked Nate Moore, one of the film’s producers, about the language. “Did you make it up? Nate replied, “This is Xhosa, John Kani’s native language. He and Chad decided to do the scene like that on set, and we rolled around with it. ” I said to myself. “Did he just learn lines in another language that day?” I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be, and even though I hadn’t met Chad, I was already in awe of his acting quality.
I learned later that there was a lot of talk about how T’Challa would sound in the movie. The decision to make Xhosa the official language of Wakanda was solidified by Chad, from South Carolina, because he was able to learn his lines in Xhosa, there. He also advocated that his character speak with an African accent, so that he could present T’Challa to the audience as an African king, whose dialect had not been conquered by the West.
I finally met Chad in person in early 2016 once I signed on to the film. He sneaked past some reporters gathered for a press conference I was doing for “Creed,” and met me in the green room. We talked about our lives, my time playing football in college, and his time at Howard studying to be a director, our collective vision for T’Challa and Wakanda. We talked about the irony of how his former classmate Howard Ta-Nehisi Coates writes T’Challa’s current arc with Marvel Comics. And how Chad got to know Howard’s pupil Prince Jones who was murdered by a police officer inspired Coates’ memoir Between the World and Me.
I noticed then that Chad was an anomaly. He was calm. Insured. Constantly study. But also kind, heartwarming, had the warmest laugh in the world, and eyes that saw far beyond his years, but could still shine like a child seeing something for the first time.
It was the first of many conversations. He was a special person. We often talked about heritage and what it means to be African. As he prepared for the film, he reflected on every decision, every choice, not just how it would reflect on himself, but how those choices might reverberate. “They’re not ready for that, what we’re doing…” “It’s Star Wars, it’s Lord of the Rings, but for us… and bigger!” He was telling me this as we struggled to finish a dramatic scene, stretching into double overtime. Or he was covered in body paint, doing his own stunts. Or crash into freezing water and foam landing pads. I nodded and smiled, but I didn’t believe it. I had no idea if the film would work. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. But I look back and realize that Chad knew something we all didn’t know. He was playing the long game. While doing the job. And the work he did.
He came to auditions for supporting roles, which is not common for lead actors in big budget movies. He was there for several M’Baku auditions. In Winston Duke, he turned a chemistry reading into a wrestling match. Winston broke his bracelet. During Letitia Wright’s audition for Shuri, she pierced her composure with her signature humor and made T’Challa 100% Chad’s face smile.
During the filming of the movie, we would meet at the office or at my rental home in Atlanta, to discuss the lines and the different ways to add depth to each scene. We talked about costumes, military practices. He told me “The Wakandans must dance during the coronations. If they’re standing right there with spears, what separates them from the Romans? In the early versions of the script. Eric Killmonger’s character is said to ask T’Challa to be buried in Wakanda. Chad disputed this and asked, “What if Killmonger asks to be buried somewhere else?” “
Chad deeply valued his privacy and I was unaware of the details of his illness. After his family released his statement, I realized that he was living with his illness the entire time I knew him. Because he was a guardian, a leader and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he protected his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a good life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year. It was who he was. It was an epic firework display. I will tell stories of my presence for some of the shining sparks until the end of my days. What an incredible mark he left on us.
I have never mourned such a terrible loss before. I spent the last year preparing, imagining, and writing words for him to say we weren’t meant to see. It leaves me heartbroken to know that I will no longer be able to watch another close-up of him on the monitor or walk over to him and ask for another take.
It hurts more to know that we can’t have another conversation, or FaceTime, or text exchange. He would send vegetarian recipes and diets for my family and I to follow during the pandemic. He watched over my loved ones and me, even as he battled the scourge of cancer.
In African cultures, we often refer to loved ones who have passed away as ancestors. Sometimes you are genetically related. Sometimes not. I had the privilege of directing scenes from Chad’s character, T’Challa, communicating with the ancestors of Wakanda. We were in Atlanta, in an abandoned warehouse, with blue screens and massive movie theater lights, but Chad’s performance made it real. I think it’s because from the moment I met him, the ancestors spoke through him. It’s no longer a secret to me now how he was able to skillfully describe some of our most remarkable. I had no doubt that he would live and continue to bless us more. But it is with a heavy heart and a feeling of deep gratitude to have never been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is now an ancestor. And I know he’ll watch over us, until we meet again. ”
Coogler and Boseman were set to reunite in the sequel to the 2018 box office-breaking film.
On Sunday, Marvel Studios tweeted that ABC “will celebrate Chadwick Boseman’s legacy with a special presentation of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther followed by the ABC News Special: Chadwick Boseman – A Tribute to a King.”
Programming begins at 8 p.m. ET Sunday. According to an ABC press release, the film will be released without advertising.